Saturday, Sep 20, 2014

Irresolute on Colombo

With its present strategy, India can neither achieve firm promises on improving conditions for minorities in Sri Lank, nor can it tackle the China factor in the region. With its present strategy, India can neither achieve firm promises on improving conditions for minorities in Sri Lank, nor can it tackle the China factor in the region.
Written by Aaranya Rajasingam | Posted: March 13, 2014 12:47 am | Updated: March 13, 2014 9:50 am

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brushed aside pressures from parties in Tamil Nadu to meet Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC summit in Myanmar. But the approaching United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meet struck a sour note.

Singh did not give Rajapaksa any assurances about India’s stance on the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. Once again, Sri Lankan state actors may be led to conclude India isn’t a reliable partner in international forums.

The Draft Resolution HRC25/1, “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, is sponsored by six countries: the US, the UK, Montenegro, Macedonia, Northern Ireland and Mauritius. This is the third year running that the Sri Lankan state is being questioned by the international community on its post-war processes. For the Sri Lankan state, the UNHRC resolution is about saving face. It does not present any formidable challenges to the China- and Russia-backed state. But it shows that international powers are displeased with Sri Lanka’s actions and attitudes.

A continued rejection of the existing grievances in the country will only lead to more such pressures. The resolution welcomes UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s recommendation on the need for an independent international investigation. Though it doesn’t state specific reprisals if expectations are not met, it puts the Sri Lankan authorities under considerable strain.

How is the UNHRC vote significant for India? The Tamil Nadu factor and domestic politics influence its foreign policy decisions on Sri Lanka. Relations with the US, the UK and other potential allies are also important. Another issue that India has to grapple with is the Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). To prevail as a regional power, India must have a firm hand and a friendly handshake when needed. So the vote has many implications for India.

India must realise that national stakeholders, such as political parties and the people of Tamil Nadu, are firmly invested in the Sri Lankan political process. Any government will have to reckon with the fact that the state must take a firm stance against human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and try to establish accountability and transparency in post-war processes. India cannot wash its hands of this mandate. Coalition politics often destabilises Indian foreign policy decisions, but it also democratises foreign policy, making it informed by the sentiments of smaller vote bases. This is something India has to embrace, not struggle with.

Embracing this situation does not mean hiding or not sending out clear signals. For India, the UNHRC vote is an opportunity to strengthen its links with potential partners such as the US. But by participating continued…

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